What's in a Team?

Recent observations about how we assemble to get work done.


To team or not to team.

Used to be those were our choices when thinking about how to come together to do our work.  And for the last 30 years, everything team has been portrayed as good and virtuous, while not being a team was seen as some kind of deficiency.

It seems we’re getting much more differentiated in the way we think about coming together in groups to do our work.  Some of this may be simply the result of modifications in the language that’s in common use.  The recent emergence of “networks” to describe how we connect to each other is one example.

Still, I think it is more than just semantics.  We are becoming more nuanced observers and designers of what it takes to be effective at our work.

Rob Cross and Jon Katzenbach just published an article that takes a close look at “top teams”.  Senior executives.  That group responsible for running the enterprise with a reputation for not playing nicely together.

Through a lot of interesting network analysis, they make the point that an effective executive team isn’t necessarily all about cohesion and collaboration.  It is rather about figuring out your context, what you are trying to achieve, and then making some intelligent, disciplined choices about how to act and interact.

Dave Snowden has been blogging a bit about what he calls “crews”.  Distinct from teams, crews are characterized by heavy upfront investment in setting people up in their roles.  They also require less effort when put into action.  By contrast, the need for teams to go through formation whenever they are deployed is a “major time waster.”

Think of an airline cockpit crew.  As long as they go through the necessary, pre-established rituals, and have received the required training, it doesn’t matter which pilot is in the seat.

I find all this a really useful development in the field, as it gives us the capacity to be ever more helpful to our clients.